Refugees in Quebec will have to learn French within 6 months

Not realistic and discriminatory (but not surprising), unfortunately):

The Quebec government is moving ahead with a controversial part of its proposed language bill, which will require all government officials to communicate with new immigrants exclusively in French, six months after their arrival — with no exceptions for refugees and asylum seekers.

The article of Bill 96, which was introduced at the National Assembly last May, was recently approved by the legislative committee studying the bill, amid criticism from opposition Liberal and Québec Solidaire MNAs. The bill is expected to become law this spring but still faces detailed study in committee.

Some organizations, opposition members and even the union representing public servants tried to persuade the government to soften the rule, to no avail.

“For newly arriving immigrants, the basic principle of the law is clear: as of Day 1, it’s exclusively in French,” said Simon Jolin-Barrette, justice minister and minister responsible for the French language.

There are exemptions in the law, which allow communication in a language other than French, “where health, public safety or the principles of natural justice so require” such as getting health care.

As well, the bill allows for a six-month grace period for “particular situations that require the use of a language other than French with new immigrants” according to Élisabeth Gosselin, spokesperson for Jolin-Barrette.

The bill says after that six-month period has lapsed, communication must be in French.

“Currently, the government communicates with immigrants who have requested it, sometimes for years, or for their whole lifetime, in a language other than French, which does not foster integration,” Gosselin said.

Learning French in 6 months

Community organizations working with newly arrived immigrants have been calling on the government to extend the six-month grace period.

“We all agree that the government cannot respond to immigrants in every language. But we have to give them time to learn French,” said Élodie Combes, member of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), a working group that represents community organizations working with immigrants.

Combes believes that the bill may actually hinder the integration of immigrants, by making it more difficult for them to get government services.

“It’s as if we’re telling them to retreat into their lingustic minority, that the government is not there for them, because they aren’t francophone enough,” she said.

Garine Papazian-Zohrabian, an associate professor in educational psychology at the Université de Montréal who researches French-language training for immigrants, says the six-month hard cap will be most harmful for refugees and asylum seekers, who are arriving in a vulnerable state.

“Members of this population are already disoriented, arriving in Quebec. They can been burdened by a difficult past and face cultural challenges. They’re not ready to learn a new language, like French, right after their arrival,” said Papazian-Zohrabian.

“You might as well say that we don’t accept refugees or immigrants, rather than place so many obstacles in front of them,” she added.

Opposition slams ‘excessive’ measures in bill

The union representing 40,000 Quebec civil servants, the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ), is also in favour of extending the six-month grace period.

In its submission to the committee examining the bill, the union suggested the delay could be extended to two years, to allow new immigrants more time to adapt.

Ruba Ghazal, Québec Solidaire MNA for the Mercier riding in Montreal, proposed a grace period of three years, saying that Jolin-Barrette is “totally disconnected from the reality of newly arrived immigrants.”

“The minister makes no distinction between a refugee and an economic class immigrant,” she said. “These people need more kindness and understanding.”

Jolin-Barrette dismissed the idea of extending the grace period, saying six months was a “reasonable” period.

Ghazal said while the bill takes a harsh stand with newly arrived immigrants, it contains a clause that allows the government to continue to communicate in languages other than French with people who immigrated to Quebec in the past.

Source: Refugees in Quebec will have to learn French within 6 months

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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